European and American Cultures Collide by Naomi Harris

Canadian born Naomi Harris is primarily a portrait photographer who seeks out cultural trends to document through her subjects. Personal projects include ‘Haddon Hall’ in which she photographed the lives of the last remaining elderly residents at a hotel in South Beach. For this work she received the 2001 International Prize for Young Photojournalism from Agfa/ Das Bildforum, honorable mention for the Yann Geffroy Award, and was a W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography finalist.

Other accolades include being awarded a New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Fellowship in Photography in 2013, a Long-Term Career Advancement Grant from the Canada Council in 2012 and participating in the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass in 2004.

In June 2012 after living in New York for 15 years she decided to leave and live in her car traveling around America with her dog Maggie in preparation of becoming a US citizen, which she did in August 2013. She currently resides in Los Angeles but returns to her homeland of Canada often to continue working on her project ‘Oh Canada’.

Hi Naomi. ‘EUSA’ tells the story of European and American cultures colliding in their own unique way. Why did you choose to tell this story?

Back in 2008 when I was working on my book ‘America Swings’ I discovered a small tourist town called Helen in the mountains of north Georgia. I had some time to kill before the party started and the event organizers suggested I go there but wouldn’t tell me anything else about the place. I was so surprised to find this little “Bavarian” village with buildings covered in gingerbread but also selling things like cuckoo clocks and tee shirts with “It’s a Southern Thang” on them. Weird or what! So I thought to myself if Helen exists are there any other “European” places around the country and went back to my hotel room and started Googling it and lo and behold yes there were! Solvang in California, Frankenmuth and Holland in Michigan, Leavenworth in Washington and Orange City, Iowa. This was around the same time the US dollar was taking an absolute beating from the Euro so talk of the EU was in the news often. The name “EUSA” popped into my mind and I decided it was a fun word but were there any American themed places in Europe? I began to research it and discovered all sorts of wild west amusement parks, Native American and American Civil War reenactments happening all over the continent.

But beyond this I really wanted to tell a story of globalization and its effects on the homogenization of the two cultures. I mean today we really have very little differences between Europeans and Americans; we wear the same jeans, eat the same foods, talk on the same iPhones. In order to celebrate the other’s culture we have to go back about a 100 to a 150 years when there were actually marked differences between each other.

To read the full interview, please visit the World Photography Organisation website.

The World Photography Organisation produces a series of exclusive interviews with the winners of The Fence annually.